On the newest episode of the Law Talk podcast, released earlier this week, I asked John Yoo if Scott Walker's decisive victory in Tuesday's recall election in Wisconsin should serve as a warning shot to the public-sector labor establishments in other states. Could a day come, I asked, when even a state as incorrigible as California finds the logic of public sector reform impossible to ignore?
John's both grounded and pithy, which is why he responded with little more than a chuckle. The truth of the matter is that whereas California used to be in the business of setting national trends, we now primarily resist them, facts be damned. As a result, the state shows no sign of finding religion. Happily, however, the California primary -- held on Tuesday of this week -- showed that the same can't be said of the Golden State's second and third largest cities. Here's how Andrew Rotherham reports the latest developments in Time:
In this city of about a million residents an hour south of San Francisco, voters on Tuesday approved arguably the country’s boldest pension cuts. San Jose’s Democratic mayor, Chuck Reed, has been grappling with ballooning pension costs that have increased from $73 million to $245 million in the last decade.
Retirement costs already consume more than 20% of the city’s general fund, which helps explain why Reed was pushing San Jose to pass Measure B, which would give voters the power to approve increases in pension benefits and give the city the power to suspend automatic 3% annual raises during a fiscal crisis.
The measure would also make workers contribute half the cost of their pensions; employees currently pay $3 for every $8 the city contributes, and the city is financially responsible for any shortfalls. Also included are provisions to curb the abuse of disability benefits. It’s a tough package — and will certainly be challenged in court because it changes benefits not only for future workers, something everyone agrees is legal, but for current ones as well. Nonetheless, voters passed it by a stunning margin of 69.5% in favor, 30.4% opposed. A pension reform measure also passed in San Diego.
If Rotherham's nine words on San Diego weren't comprehensive enough for you, you can go back to this post of mine from February for more background on the situation in "America's Finest City," where the pension reform measure passed with two-thirds of the vote. That was undoubtedly helped along by some brilliant advertising like this:
So the bad news is that California isn't quite Wisconsin yet. But the good news is that San Diego and San Jose aren't exactly Madison either.